Billy Cragg was born in the Levenshulme area of Manchester in about 1885. His parents were William, a merchant’s clerk and Mary. Within the following two years, the family moved to Stockport where another son, James, was born. When the census was taken in 1901, they were living at 93 Beech Road, Cale Green.
Nothing has been discovered about his early years and it is not known what he did for a living. In 1908, he married Mabel Downs at St George’s Church where he is believed to have worshipped (he is commemorated on the Church’s War Memorial). The couple lived first at 54 Heathbank Road and, later, at 128 Moorland Road. They would have two children together – the name of only one, Allen, is known.
Billy was a keen sportsman playing lacrosse for the Stockport Club. He had also played for Cheshire at “third man” or in defence. In the summer, he played cricket and was described as a “hard hitting batsman [who] was an invaluable member of the Stockport Team”. He is also commemorated on the Club’s War Memorial at the Cale Green ground. He developed an interest in golf and played at the Hazel Grove Club. Billy was also a member of the Disley Conservative Club – his parents had moved to the village some time before the War.
He joined the Navy in 1916 as a member of the Volunteer Reserve – the equivalent of the Army’s Territorials – and after training at Crystal Palace, he joined a minesweeper as a Sub-Lieutenant. By 1918, he appears to have been back on dry land as HMS Victory was a shore-based establishment at Gosport, Hampshire. Billy fell victim to the worldwide pandemic of influenza which costs millions of lives in the autumn of 1918. The flu turned to pneumonia and he was admitted to the Royal Naval Hospital at Portsmouth. In the days before anti-biotics, pneumonia was all too often a killer and this was Billy’s cause of death.
James Cragg also served during the War. As a Lieutenant with the 6th Battalion, Manchester Regiment, he was wounded at Gallipoli but is thought to have survived the War.